Saturday, May 31, 2008

Fertilizer Time

It is about time to give a little nitrogen boost to your pumpkin plant. By about now your plant should be showing some signs of growth. In the next 4 weeks it is really important to add some salad (vines and leaves) so you can set a pumpkin about 12 feet out from the base. June 28th to July 4th is the perfect time to pollinate and get a pumpkin growing. In order to get your pumpkin out 12 feet you probably have a lot of growing to do over the next few weeks. That is where the nitrogen comes in. Nitrogen will help the plant grow just like it helps your grass grow. You don't want to give it to much and you want to add it in the morning before the heat of the day and water it well in. I'm going to give my plant an organic 10-5-5 next Saturday. Two weeks later I'm going to give it a small amount of organic 5-8-4 with mycorrhiza fungi to help bring on the flowers and support tap roots. I will then not give it any more fertilizer until 2 weeks after the fruit is set. Hopefully that will be around July 14th. At that time I will give the plant a weekly or bi-weekly folier spray of Neptune's Harvest Fish and Seaweed 2-3-1. About once a month I will replace the Neputune's with a very small amount of green sand 0-0-6 and 5-8-4 with mycorrhiza fungi to give it a little boost. You have to be very careful with the fertilizers. The right amount will add pounds to your pumpkin. To much will literally blow up your pumpkin (seeds can fly as far as 5 feet on a big blow out where the pumpkin has out grown it's own skin).

Friday, May 30, 2008

Pumpkin Roots

Did you know that the root systems of giant pumpkins are massive?

In a “one-of-a-kind” research project in 1927, John Weaver and William Brunder, botanists at the University of Nebraska, grew many different vegetable crops and, over time, excavated and mapped the course of the root systems. They published their work in a book titled “Root Development of Vegetable Crops,” published by McGraw-Hill Company, New York. To my knowledgy, no one since has attempted such a difficult task.

Vines of ‘Small Sugar’ pumpkin were about 16 feet long at maturity and the top 12 inches of soil were filled with roots. The taproot of mature pumpkins grew 6 feet deep and had 10 or more lateral branches that extensively branched outward for 5 to 17 feet or more. Many of these lateral roots were 2 to 4 feet long and all complexly and minutely rebranched, forming a “wonderfully efficient root complex”. The second and third feet of soil were also thoroughly filled with roots, with the fourth foot of soil containing many vertically descending roots. Plant size of pie pumpkins, like ‘Small Sugar’, may not be as large and vigorous as the jack-o-lantern types. It is probable that the root systems of larger pumpkins such as Atlantic Giants may be more extensive than those reported in this book.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

This is Haddie's Pumpkin

Haddie is my daughter. Just turned four this last Sunday. This is her first pumpkin plant. She has been doing an excellent job of giving it regular water. Unfortuneatly the planting spot isn't ideal, but it is the same spot we grew the winning pumpkin last year and it is from a seed from that same pumpkin so hopefully it will do well. We've built up the soil a little more this year so she is hoping for a big one. The thought of a trophy gets her very excited. ;-) The bamboo pole that you see is to train the pumpkin to go in the rigth direction. The planting spot is very narrow.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Here is My Pumpkin 'Dill Boy'

Here is a picture of my pumpkin plant. I'm calling him 'Dill Boy' in honor of Howard Dill. The seeds for this plant came from Howard and has parentage that could give a 300-500 pound pumpkin. I'm shooting for a 300 pound pumpkin this year but would be thrilled with a 500 pounder (or bigger). You might see some holes in the leaves. Hail did a little bit of damage two days ago before the plant could get covered, but it seems to be doing fine now. I'll post new pictures from time to time so you can keep up on it's progress if you wish.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Great Loss

Howard Dill passed away two days ago due to complications from liver cancer. It is a great loss for the pumpkin growing community. Howard was a four time world champion pumpkin grower and the inventor of the famed Dill's Atlantic pumpkin seeds. All of the biggest pumpkins grown including last years world record break came from Howard's line of seeds. [ Learn More About Howard Dill ] [ Big Pumpkin Message Board ]

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Pumpkin Growing Experiment

Today I've setup an experiment to see what kind of soil types new pumpkin plants like best. I've planted Prize Winner seeds in Hyponex potting soil, Miracle Gro Organic Garden Soil, Miracle Grow Seedling Potting Soil, and straight cow manure. I've done two containers for each soil type in the hopes to get an average of plant growth after four weeks to see what new pumpkin plants like best. Each plant will get the exact same amount of water each day to make sure there are no outside influences. Check back in four weeks for a release of the findings.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Pumpkin is Planted!

A couple of weeks late, but the the pumpkin plant is finally in the ground. I put the green house on it with a 60-watt bulb to keep it warm last night. We are now officially off and running!

To plant your pumpkin you should mound your prepared soil (soil preparation is talked about below) so it looks like Table Top Mountain. The top should be a couple of inches higher than the surrounding soil. Plant your pumpkin a few inches from the edge of the mound with a little mycorrhizal fungi in the hole where the roots will be touching. This will give you more area for the sun to warm the soil around the pumpkin and help it get a good start during cool Colorado spring nights.

Don't be afraid to put some dirt under the vines to support them as the plant transitions to its new home.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Compost Feeding Your Pumpkin

Pumpkins love good rich soil. We've already talked about how to build your soil before you plant your pumpkin. There is one other thing I'm trying this year in order to grow an even bigger pumpkins. About 2.5 feet from where I'm planting the pumpkin I am adding on each side of the pumpkin a 1x1x2 foot area of nothing but straight compost and cured cow manure. Once the pumpkin is well established and growing I hope to feed the pumpkin with these patches. This compost shouldn't be too rich, but as the plant's roots reach out I hope to give it a great food source for the pumpkin a month or so from now. I'll let you know how it works. One pumpkin is getting the compost treatment and the other one isn't so we should be able to see if there is a difference by the end of the growing season.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Words to Live By

"There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin." - Linus van Pelt in It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tucking the Baby in at Night

Tomorrow is supposed to have a low around 32 degrees with a chance of snow. To keep Haddie's pumpkin warm tonight I built a little green house and put in a light to try to keep it warm. I put the green house out about two hours ago and just went out now to add the light. The plant was okay but not happy. The 60-watt bulb hopefully will keep her warm enough tonight to survive the next 36 hours.

Transplanting the Seedling-Walking on Your Tipi Toes with New Plants

It is time to put my potted plant into the ground outside. Normally I would have done this two weeks ago but because of very cold weather here in Denver (possible snow in the forecast tomorrow) I haven't done it yet. I plan on planting two plants on Thursday with a green house and a 60-watt bulb to give them a little extra warmth. For the last couple of days I've been preparing the pumpkin plants by putting them outside for a few hours a day and in the garage at night. This can be a little nerve racking for a new pumpkin grower. Wind, cold, sun and kids can be a real risk to new pumpkin plants (caught my 1-year-old son digging in the pot yesterday afternoon).

It isn't uncommon for new pumpkin plants to droop considerably when they get in a new environment. When this happens don't get to discouraged. Take the pot inside (if it isn't planted yet) and give the plant a little water. Pumpkins can be a little finicky at first and when they get unhappy they will tell you very quickly. Just give them a little TLC and they usually come back around.

If you have any great tips for transplanting new plants please let me know. I'm always happy to get a great new tip.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Still Time to Get and Plant Pumpkin Seeds

It still isn't too late to plant seeds and have an enormous jack-o-lantern this fall. If you are new to growing giant pumpkins there are only two variety of plants that I think you should consider. Prize Winner and Dill's Atlantic Giant Pumpkins. Prize Winners can grow up to about 200 pounds and can be purchased at many local garden shops such as Echter's in Arvada. The average Prize Winner pumpkin is around 80 pounds in weight. Dill's Atlantic Giant Pumpkins set new world records each year with the new champion grown last year at a whopping 1689 pounds. The average pumpkin is about 250 pounds. For each of these varieties you will need some space. Vines will grow up to 30 feet in length by the end of the season if they are not maintained.

Planting a pumpkin seed is easy. In a nice peat pot place the seed about a quarter of an inch below the soil surface in a nice starter soil and keep the soil lightly moist over the next 12-14 days. After about 14 days the pumpkin plant should start pushing through the top of the soil and you will be amazed at how fast that little plant will grow.

Pumpkins - A Family Affair

Pumpkin growing is a family affair for us. My 3-year-old daughter has her own pumpkin plant (she put dirt in the pot, planted the seed and has been doing regular watering), my dad is co-growing two pumpkin plants with me, and my wife adds her help by complaining about my obsession. Like I said, it is a family affair.

It's Planting Time in Denver -- Kind Of

It is about that time of year to plant your pumpkins in the ground. By now you should have a nice little green plant popping up from a seed you planted about two weeks ago. The forecast for Denver isn't looking great however. Two nights in the next week will be around 38 degrees so I am planning on holding off putting the last two pumpkin plants in the ground until Monday.

My daughter's pumpkin was planted on Monday and has done pretty well so far. We put a wall-o-water around the pumpkin to shield it from wind and to keep it a little warmer at night and so far it has done pretty well.

Soil Preparation for Big Pumpkins

If there is one thing you need to get a really big pumpkin (outside of good seed like Dill's Giant Atlantic) you need good soil. Denver's clay soils aren't ideal for pumpkins but with a little work you can prepare the ground to grow a great pumpkin.

Last year I didn't really plan on growing a first prize pumpkin. My only goal was to grow a pumpkin that was the biggest on the street. By the end of August I knew that I had something special because I could literally see the pumpkin grow every day. Big pumpkins need great soil. When I first plant my seeds I like to use Happy Frog Light Warrior soil less medium with some mycorrhizal fungi added. I've tried other types of soils and soil less mediums and there is a 20% difference in the size of a seedling planted in Happy Frog verses regular top soils.

Once planted don't give your pumpkin any fertilizer. The plants are tender and don't need any special nutrients outside of what the compost, worm castings, and soil has to offer. There are lots of good sites on how to build a good compost but if you don't have a compost pile and a lot of time, try the following soil prep recipe. You can buy most of these items at Home Depot, Wal Mart or most good garden centers:
  • Earth Gro Composted Steer Manure with humus
  • Nature's Yeild or EKO brand compost
  • Happy Frog Soil conditioner
  • Earthworm Castings
  • A mild organic fertilizer with mycorrhizal fungi such as Happy Frog 3-3-3

Dig the above amendments into your soil at least one foot deep and at least twelve feet wide from the center of where you intend to plant your pumpkin about a month before planting. After digging that mixture into your soil you should have a pretty decent planting area for your pumpkin plant. A soil test from the Colorado Extension service can help you know exactly what you need to put into your soil. Pumpkin roots can travel as far as 25 feet and tap roots can travel another 5 feet from the vine so the bigger an area you can prepare the better off you will be.

The difference between a giant pumpkin and a good sized pumpkin is the soil preparation that happens in the fall however. The above recipe is good when the planting season is upon you, but to really build your soil to world class levels you need to start in the fall and let it sit for 6 months. Good soil prep includes 2-3 yards of compost added to the soil in a 30x30 space along with humic acid and any other additional soil amendments that are recommended from your soil test. In Denver most soils tend to be alkali which means you need to drop the ph levels of the soil. The best way to do this is add sulfur and organic matter to the soil along with the rest of the amendments and rototill it all in. By spring you should see the ph levels of your soil drop a fair amount. In late winter or early spring you should do another soil test and then make the proper adjustments to your soil to make sure your organic matter, nitrogen, phosphorus and potash levels are just right.

Denver Pumpkins--Your Guide to Growing Big Pumpkins in Colorado

A few years ago I bought my first house with a yard. I always participated in he family garden growing up but never took much to it because pulling weeds and snapping beans on a Saturday morning wasn't my idea of having fun on the weekend. It was much to my parents surprise when I started my own garden and even more to their surprise when my pumpkin took first prize in the annual pumpkin contest. Since then I have started to grow a passion for the perfect yellow squash and the need for an even bigger pumpkin.

This blog is dedicated to growing pumpkins in Denver, Colorado. A lot of it will be tips from my own experience and some of it will be my own successes and failures as the season progresses. This year I hope to get a pumpkin that is around 300 pounds. Come back frequently for regular updates on the three pumpkin plants we plan on growing this season.

The Great Pumpkin

This post was originally written in October of 2007 after my first pumpkin contest (the Arvada Festival of Scarecrows)...

Remember the Charlie Brown Halloween special where Linus was waiting for the Great Pumpkin to rise out of the pumpkin patch? I always kind of considered Linus a woosy for it. You just knew the kid was wasting his time. You wanted to just scream, "Wait until Christmas you idiot and Santa will take care of you! Great Pumpkin? Stupid!"

I am now a believer in the Great Pumpkin. My conversion came swift and almost unexpected. There I was minding my own business and a thought came to my head. "I wonder if there are any giant pumpkin competitions here in Arvada" I said to myself one afternoon. After a couple of quick searches on I found what I was looking for. A giant pumpkin competition that was part of the Festival of Scarecrows here in Arvada. I instantly decided I was in.

You see I've been growing a giant pumpkin since early spring of this year in my own backyard. A few times a week I would water it and tend to the flowers to make sure the perfect pumpkin would get a good start. At first it wasn't much to look at. As of July it was just a mass of vines and a few flowers with just a start of a pumpkin. I was actually kind of concerned that it would have enough time to grow before the first frost hit so I would at least have some kind of a pumpkin for halloween. Come August however it exploded. You could literally watch the small yellow, round bulb grow and slowly turn into a bright orange pumpkin. In October I knew I had something special. What started as my usual obsession to have the biggest pumpkin on the street turned into a desire to see if I could have the biggest pumpkin in Arvada. I saw that last year's winner in the YourHub article was about 200 lbs and although I had no idea how much my pumpkin weighed, I thought from the pictures that maybe my pumpkin had a chance.

As the competition came closer my faith wavered however. I considered entering the pumpkin under Haddie's name thinking there might be a better chance of winning in the kids division. After all, Haddie had spent a number of hours watering the pumpkin this summer as well as spraying daddy in the process.

At 6:30am in the morning of the big show my good neighbor Darrin was kind enough to come over to help me load the pumpkin in the car. The pumpkin was heavy. Really heavy. I thought maybe I could win the overall competition but I pushed that thought to the back of my mind and kept to my origional plan of entering it under Haddie's name. Certainly someone else must have a bigger pumpkin I reasoned and it was better to play it safe. When I arrived at the show and parked in the pumpkin unloading area one of the two men who assisted me with the unloading said, "Oh this is a big one. I think we've got the winner right here." My faith then gained strength and I put the pumpkin in the adult category.

After going to lunch we returned to the competition for the big weigh in. Nearly a dozen big pumpkins were entered in the contest. After scanning the field I could tell there were two clear favorites and mine was one of them. The second big one was really big, perfectly shaped and a fine specimen. I had to lean over to Amber and say "I think that one is the winner" and I began to regret that I didn't put the pumpkin in the children's competition.

Soon they began to weigh in the pumpkins starting with the Children's division. After the children's pumpkins were weighed and the prizes awarded the adult competition began. They started by weighing in the smaller pumpkins. One by one they weighed them and the top weight increased each time.

Finally they got to my pumpkin and the other pumpkin. To my surprise they weighed in the other big pumpkin before mine and since they had been going in order by size I thought maybe mine had a shot. The other pumpkin came in at a whopping 40lbs above the next biggest pumpkin! My heart sank. They then began to load up my pumpkin. The three guys strained as they lifted the pumpkin to the scale. One commented, "This is a heavy pumpkin." Again my heart took strength.

After placing it on the scale the official weigher started sliding the scale back and forth. I knew it was close but I couldn't see from my position how close. The weigher then asked for someone to give an official check of the weight and then the announcement came. 141.5 lbs! One pound more than the other big pumpkin. My pumpkin was the winner! After pictures, awards and prizes I was given a moment to think a little bit about it all and realized that the blanket toting kid was right. The Great Pumpkin does rise out of the pumpkin patch and bring gifts to all of the good girls and boys. He really does!